Bringing the classics 'to life' - how Hollywood markets literary adaptations

Bringing the classics 'to life' - how Hollywood markets literary adaptations

Why casting books as dead media is a problem

On my way to work every day, I drive by a giant billboard advertising the new Snow White film Mirror Mirror. Not only does it amplify my fear of Julia Roberts's gargantuan world-swallowing mouth, it also belies a trend I find somewhat disturbing in the way movie adaptations are marketed to the latest crop of media consumers. The film's tagline reads, "The Snow White legend comes alive." Seems harmless at first, but when you're forced to read it twice a day amid the rush of your daily commute, you start to realize that there's something pretty arrogant and insidious about that claim. As in: really? A much beloved 200-year-old fairy tale, and the only thing that can bring it to life at long last is Erin Brokovich? Last time I checked, if you've been around for two centuries, it's not a washed-up middle-aged perplexingly Oscar-holding actress who has the power to make you come alive.

I saw similar copy pop up in the marketing for the new film The Raven, based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. It's as though marketing execs feel an untapped power in the notion that books in their original state are just dead weight. That only the magic of the cinema can actually unlock them from their dormant state. Movies aren't just an alternate method of storytelling; they're the only method that brings life to stories, that translates them from the dormant DNA of their source texts into an actual experience.

I know reading a whole book might take a smidge more effort than sitting in an air-conditioned theater for two hours, but since when were books just dead stories? How is watching someone famous recite awkward dialogue on a 20-foot screen a more "lifelike" storytelling experience than actually animating a Grimm fairy tale or a Poe novella with your own mind? Watching a movie is still a canned, repeatable experience--you're not seeing the actors on a stage, you're consuming a product. The idea of filmmakers as the Frankensteins of stories, animating old, dead, cast-off parts, disempowers the reader--and creates industry consumers as a result. Which is great for Hollywood, I guess, but philosophically bad for those of us who love stories in their pure, uncut form. Personally, I'd take a still, "dead" book over a trendy Julia Roberts vehicle any day. I don't need to see and hear my stories to believe in them. The words themselves are plenty alive for me--no blockbuster necessary.